C.S. Lewis wrote, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” As a pastor I felt pressured to make hurting people feel better. In my desire to be a comfort I’d be tempted to say things they desperately wanted to hear like, “Just keep believing and Jesus will make it all go away and give you a nice, comfortable life again.” But that didn’t square with real life or the gospel. It was a wish-dream. In spite of a healing here and divine intervention there, life for most remained unpredictable and hard.
The truth is, Jesus saved the world not by making it comfortable; not by removing the pain and suffering from life but, as Robert Capon put it, by his own terminal discomfort – his crucifixion. And as a prescription for our own lives he tells us to take up our own cross – our own discomfort – and follow him in active trust along the same road of self-denial and patient suffering he took. He never said he’d make the mess and discomfort disappear – at least not until he returns.
Instead he gives us the guarantee that he’s present in our discomfort. “And be sure of this: I am with you always (on your good days and bad), even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) I did a little investigating and found out that “comfort” comes from the root word fort – meaning strong point. In other words, what Jesus actually gives us is the strength that comes from trusting that no matter what happens to us – sin, adversity, sickness, death – nothing can separate us from him. Jesus himself is that strength not some wishful thinking that it will go away like a bad dream.
I appreciate Lewis’ candor. After disappointing enough people I realized that I had to be careful what I handed out in the name of comfort. Pep talks and pipe dreams don’t work. What hurting people need most is a healthy dose of gospel-reality not a cheerleader or magician. I found it better to just be a coach that points people to Jesus. Inviting them to trust him. Helping them find him in the midst of their discomfort where he does his best work. Encouraging them to leave the results to him. The best comfort I can give a hurting person is to help them connect with Jesus who said, “I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” (John 16:33)